Developing a Conceptual Model
As inferred from the in-depth, semi-structured interviews held in 2018, in Paderbom and Lemgo, with CRs (managers and scholars anonymised as El- E7), there is some general agreement among them, as to the importance of individual factors for the success of it’s OWL. Firstly, ‘knowledge is there, and it is a must for any 14.0 cluster’ (El). Secondly, agglomeration of business and industry is also critical, as well as the presence of business partners (B2B), and supply and demand in place, are seen as a given asset of the cluster. The institutional dimension, although, perceived sceptically at the beginning, becomes, over tune, an advantage. It is now recognised as a basic framework, which helps to leverage the expertise and competences, to develop trust among companies and to reinforce positive attitudes. In other words, it’s OWL by combining the three pillars mentioned above—a set of critical attributes— can stimulate the advancement in business digital transformation—in 14.0. As seen by it’s OWL representatives, cluster-14.0 relation is not a ‘one-way sheet’. Not only clusters contribute to the development of 14.0, but it goes both ways—14.0 or digitisation shape clusters, as well.
International Relations and Openness
According to it’s OWL members, there is a clear need to open up the cluster, of more international co-operation, which reinforces the local base of competencies and inversely contributes to local knowledge (Fredin, Miomer & Jogmark. 2019). Cluster openness remains a critical factor. As stressed by it’s OWL representatives (E4), responsible for internationalisation, ‘generally, it is always crucial to keep one’s eyes open to what is happening globally. Increasing international visibility and extending one’s global network only works, if one is aware of a global picture. In this way, the cluster internationalises’. It’s OWL has a clear brand that is recognised by its unique character, namely the clustering of companies, universities, research institutes and other organisations in the OWL region, which has an evident culture of co-operation. By working closely with other national and international technology regions and clusters, it’s OWL helps establish OWL as a centre for cutting-edge technology. Successfiil collaboration enhances the performance of the Leading-Edge Cluster, increases the visibility of the OWL region worldwide, and at the same time, expands the network of cluster partners. The internationalisation of cluster typically equals the internationalisation of its members, as well. ‘So, it’s OWL as a brand internationalises, but through the cluster’s efforts to engage in internationalisation, the partners become more international as well, because they are a part of the cluster and are involved in certain activities’ (E4). Events such as delegation visits, fairs, participation in international workshops, all support the internationalisation of it’s OWL as such, and of its members. However, attracting companies from outside, specifically the foreign direct investors (FDI), to the Leading-Edge Cluster, has not been practised.
Various channels of internationalisation are applied by it’s OWL, but not all are possible. Interestingly, the R&D collaboration and subsequently, the exchange of knowledge and transfer of technologies, becomes the critical aspect and component of this co-operation. This aspect of the activity is encouraged and supported by it’s OWL-dedicated internationalisation team. Other commercial activities, mainly exporting, happen as the initiatives of firms, themselves. It reflects 011 some trends and puiposefr.il actions undertaken by the federal government, within the High-Tech Strategy Internationalisation of Leading-Edge Clusters, Forward-Looking Projects, and Comparable Networks (Clusters-Networks-Intemational, www.bmbf.de/ en/iutemationalisatiou-of-leading-edge-clusters-forward-looking-projects- and-comparable-1416.html). ‘Sharing our own abilities with others and extending them with international knowledge, will help us stay competitive and innovative in future’ (E4). Strengthening the international networking of research and industry is therefore, critical. As it has been argued, new promising technologies, products and solutions arise through co-operation across different sectors and technologies. Potential foreign co-operation partners should have complementary competencies, compared to the German partner cluster, their management organisation or proper structure, as well as the objective to design joint rules of co-operatiou. The promoted formula of internationalisation of cluster appears to deviate from the established and typical approach. Namely, under the notion of cluster internationalisation, what is meant is mainly the support of cluster organisations (COs) to SMEs and the assistance in their foreign expansion, primarily in the form of export. It’s OWL’s internationalisation is, however, considered as leveraging the complementarities with foreign partner clusters. It materialises via subsequent exchange of knowledge and technology transfer, while creating synergies to advance the innovations.
Internationalisation is seen as a way of improving available local competences, to enable the reinforcement of the local knowledge. Partner clusters should be selected, based on their capabilities as someone to ‘leam from’. Building on the culture of co-operation, inherent in the OWL region, the diagnosed complementarities with foreign partners, must create the fundamentals for collaboration, aiming to increase the joint chances to win the international global competition in the area of 14.0. Internationalisation is the way to achieve a particular aim, and not necessarily an objective, in itself. It is supposed to help to gain valuable knowledge from outside and leverage it for the benefit of it’s OWL, as well as prevent possible dangerous inertia or lock-in of the cluster. It is a pre-requisite for maintaining competitiveness and for providing constituent firms with access to foreign ‘know-how’ (Turkina & Van Assche, 2018). The ultimate goal of the cluster is to contribute to regional development, create jobs and further improve the regional wealth and prosperity.
So, the cluster is internationally oriented, but it does not seem justified to speak about the clear hubbing (geographic expansion) of the cluster concept. ‘It is natural for companies, for universities and for research insti- hites to internationalise, given a globalised world’ (E4). Thus, in the case of it’s OWL, ‘the cluster concept is not stretching as such, but there is a strong international orientation. This comes with globalisation and the need to constantly acquire new knowledge' (E4). Nevertheless, as seen in it’s OWL, some stretching of the cluster is happening already, but it is an evolutionary process. Blending (sectoral expansion) but mainly hubbing, namely, increasing the geographical scale, both prove essential for the upgr ading of the cluster competences, as the option to leam from others. It should be considered as a step preventing hi the long run possible cluster decline. Opinions on this topic are, however, not unanimous. ‘Stretching is not something really positive and should not be seen as an aim in itself. It happens anyway, but should be regarded as a natural stage for the upgrading of cluster competences. Opening to the outside brings fresh ah, new impetus, prevents the lock-in of cluster, and ultimately, it helps to tackle challenges of megatrends like Industry 4.0. The cluster should combine two types of membership—close, full of those located here, and some associated members co-operating more loosely. Remaining flexible is important’ (El). Proximity and geographical co-location should remain a central fea- nue of the cluster. ‘Stretching is something positive, as long as it provides more options of learning and helps to sustain the competitive advantage, which is a “sine qua non” condition for upgrading local skills and expertise, for staying in the top cluster globally, and avoiding risks of degradation’ (E3). It can be surmised that clusters would change under the pressure of digitisation. They would need to remain open geographically, and be more diversified sectorally. but these processes should be seen, in fact, as a way of bolstering the core established competencies; as a necessary upgrading of local knowledge.